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Administration Yet to Heed Recommendations of Anti-Bullying Task Force

More support for districts and clarification of what actually constitutes bullying are both part of final report from panel

Credit: Grace Moylan, NJPSA
NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe

New Jersey’s pioneering anti-bullying law for schools has gone through a few changes and debates since it was enacted in 2012.

There was the call -- and at least an initial fulfillment -- for the state to contribute funds to help districts pay for the new protocols. And over the years, the state has released a series of guidance memos as to how the law should be implemented.

Now, the Christie administration faces a new test; a task force of its own making has recommended a series of changes that so far have been slow to be heeded.

Appointed three years ago, the task force’s final report released last month recommended code changes that it said would help schools differentiate between a bullying incident and more innocent conflict between students.

In another recommendation, the task force -- appointed both by the governor’s office and by legislative leaders -- called for more state funding to support districts as they seek to build friendlier environments, through formal and informal means.

But there has been little movement on either recommendation. There has been no signal from the administration that it would go along with the funding request. Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed spending plan for fiscal 2017, announced in February, included no additional funds for either districts or the department’s own staffing to address anti-bullying efforts.

Meanwhile, code changes that the task force had said were imminent in the release of the report have yet to be introduced to the State Board of Education.

The most significant recommendations were ones that would draw clearer lines for school principals to follow in determining whether a formal bullying investigation should be launched, including some refining of the definition of bullying.

Under the task force’s recommendation, for instance, an incident should include the determination that the accused student held power over alleged victim.

The chair of the task force spoke before the state board last Wednesday and said she still hoped the regulation changes would be coming soon -- as well as some financial support.

“We are told (regulation changes) are coming soon, and I hope that they are,” said Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

As for the funding, Wright said it has been a fading promise: “That was part of the legislation, but it has not been funded the last couple of years.”

State officials remained vague as to what was coming next from the administration. Speaking at the board meeting, state Education Commissioner David Hespe said the regulatory changes were coming, but were still going through their own legal vetting.

He promised the proposed changes would be coming within the next few months, although he stopped short of saying what those recommendations would be.

“This is a very complicated law, one of the most restrictive laws I have ever seen,” Hespe said. “There are a host of legal issues we are working through, and multiple levels of attorneys.”

“I do expect this to happen relatively quickly, but the more prescriptive the law is, the more difficult it is to put in place regulations,” he said.

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